WILMINGTON — As concerns grew about GenX in the Cape Fear River, state and local organizations – as well as The Chemours Company – have repeatedly deferred to the regulatory and investigatory power of the EPA. This includes the most pressing question of all: is GenX dangerous to humans?
But now the EPA has apparently gone silent.
In defending its decision not to go public with knowledge about GenX, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority cited the absence of an EPA regulation or health standard for the chemical. The CFPUA wasn’t alone. Following a closed-door meeting with Chemours, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) suggested during a press conference that – in the absence of EPA regulations – Chemours permit could operate even with an expired permit (more about that June 15 press conference here).
Water sampled by the DEQ is also being tested by the EPA (as well as a private lab in Colorado). The EPA is also re-evaluating the danger posed to humans by perfluoro-2-propoxypropanoic acid (PFPrOPrA), the chemical known as GenX.
The chemical is not currently considered to be a risk to human health by either the EPA, the DEQ or the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (a point made repeatedly at the June 15 press conference).
In short, there are a lot of questions for the EPA to answer. But it hasn’t.
Throughout early June the EPA answered a flurry of questions from Port City Daily – about Chemours, GenX and other issues – quickly. Something changed. For the past 10 days, the agency has not returned phone calls and emails sent to Enesta Jones and Davina Marraccini, as well as the EPA’s general press contact email and phone number.
Communication with Port City Daily came to a halt after the EPA was asked about how, exactly, it would evaluate GenX toxicity.
Despite the level of public outcry it remains unclear how dangerous GenX actually is to humans. The EPA said as part of its investigation into GenX levels in the Cape Fear River it would also reevaluate the toxicity of the chemical. According to EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones, that reevaluation would depend on data from Chemours.
… in this case it appeared that the EPA was relying solely on Chemours to evaluate the toxicity of its own product.
In an email on June 20, Jones wrote on behalf of the EPA: “When EPA issued the consent order (to Chemours), the risk assessment for GenX was informed by available toxicity data for GenX and analogous substances such as PFOA, a chemical (perfluorooctanoic acid) that is better known as “C8.”
The consent order required the company to conduct additional toxicity testing on GenX. EPA has received the data from Chemours and is using it to update its risk assessment.”
Jones also wrote that the EPA “uses the best available peer reviewed science to identify and regulate contaminants that present meaningful opportunities for health risk reduction.”
However, in this case it appeared that the EPA was relying solely on Chemours to evaluate the toxicity of its own product. When asked to clarify if Chemours would be the only source of toxicity data, the EPA stopped responding completely.
But this wasn’t the only question that went unanswered.
Kuraray America: mistaken identity?
The EPA lists Kuraray America on its Discharge Monitoring Tool website as dumping PFOA, a class of chemical that includes C8 – a carcinogenic substance that 3M, DuPont and Chemours have all phased out; DuPont and Chemours paid $670 million to settle a lawsuit over illness linked to PFOA. Chemours’ website explicitly lauds GenX as being an alternative to PFOA. (Read more about that here.)
Kuraray denies that it manufactures or dumps PFOA; a Kuraray representative implied Chemours was to blame. This was verified by the DEQ. The spokeswoman for the state agency, Marla Sink, confirmed that the permit is mislabeled and the EPA website should show Chemours as dumping the chemical.
Sink also said the DEQ believes the PFOA is “legacy” material, possibly from a firefighter training facility upriver from the Fayetteville Works facility.
The EPA did not respond to questions about who is really responsible for the PFOA, or how it mislabeled the permit information.
Broader investigation: Kuraray and DuPont
The North Carolina DEQ is also looking into Chemours. Spokeswoman Marla Sink confirmed that four other manufacturing units (two operated by Kuraray America and two operated by DuPont) would also be evaluated, though there were no current compliance issues at Kuraray.
The EPA did not answer a similar question as to whether DuPont and Kuraray’s facilities would also be investigated along with Chemours.
A burning question
Chemours is presently finalizing plans for out-of-state disposal of GenX and already performed a “test burn” of the chemical in Arkansas on June 22.
The EPA did not respond to questions about whether its investigation would track interstate disposals, the environmental or human health impact of incinerating GenX (or other similar chemicals) or whether the EPA would be working with other states.
GenX regulation … in 2025
The EPA currently considers the GenX an “emerging contaminant,” a category of chemicals the agency does not regulate.
The next step for EPA regulation would be placing GenX on the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) – a set of up to 30 chemicals the EPA plans to study. The study would take place in a five-year cycle called the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR). The most recent UCMR – the fourth (which you can read here) – was published in 2016 and will be studied in waterways nationwide between 2018 and 2020 (the previous UCMR published in 2007, was studied from 2008-2010).
The Contaminant Candidate List for 2018 – 2020 testing includes PFOAs like C8, but not more recent chemicals like GenX. If GenX was added to the next UCMR, it would not be until around 2022 and testing would likely be in 2022-2025.
The EPA did not respond to questions about putting GenX on the fifth (UCMR) testing cycle, or if there were any fast-tracking options for a chemical like GenX.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at email@example.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.